Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gunman’s Employer Dealt Another in a Series of Black Eyes

G4S security officers in Britain in 2012. The British government had to enlist its own troops during the first days of the Olympics that year because the company could not provide enough security.

JUNE 17, 2016

The past few years have not gone smoothly for G4S, the giant security firm based in Britain that employed the Orlando nightclub killer, Omar Mateen.

Just before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the British government had to enlist its own troops because the company initially could not provide enough security, which its chief executive at the time called a “humiliating shambles.”

The next year, a coroner’s inquest in Britain found that an Angolan father of five was “unlawfully killed” while in the custody of G4S guards, who held his head down during a deportation flight despite his crying out, “I can’t breathe.”

The guards were acquitted of manslaughter, but the company’s image was not aided by the disclosure of virulently racist and anti-immigrant texts on the guards’ phones.

And in 2015, another inquest revealed that a G4S subsidiary improperly vetted an employee with a criminal record who later was convicted in Iraq of killing two colleagues.

This week, the company has faced scrutiny over its handling of Mr. Mateen, who was employed by G4S for nine years and was most recently stationed at a guard house in a residential golfing community.

Shares of G4S stock have dropped 6 percent since Monday amid investor fears of another controversy calling into question the competence of the company, which, with more than 600,000 employees, is among the world’s largest private employers.

It now faces questions about its vetting practices — a paramount skill for a security company — with the disclosures that Mr. Mateen remained an employee after it learned in 2013 that he had been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and that a local sheriff that same year insisted on his removal from the courthouse where he was a contract security guard.

At a news conference on Monday, James Comey, the F.B.I. director, said Mr. Mateen alarmed his court co-workers in 2013 with claims of a connection to Al Qaeda, assertions that he was a member of the Shia militant organization Hezbollah, and statements that he hoped the police would raid his apartment and assault his family “so that he could martyr himself.”

What exactly took place in the courthouse is not clear. In a statement this week, the sheriff of St. Lucie County, Ken Mascara, said Mr. Mateen had been removed after “inflammatory” comments, and that his office requested the F.B.I. investigation.

Sheriff Mascara declined an interview request. But during a meeting on Wednesday of residents of the golfing village where Mr. Mateen had been working, the sheriff said that after a deputy at the courthouse said something to Mr. Mateen about the Middle East, he threatened the deputy.

“Omar became very agitated and made a comment that he could have Al Qaeda kill my employee and his family,” Sheriff Mascara said, according to an account published on a local newspaper website, TCPalm. A sheriff’s spokesman, Bryan Beaty, confirmed that the sheriff made the comments at a homeowner’s meeting.

“If that wasn’t bad enough,” Sheriff Mascara was quoted as saying, “he followed it up with very disturbing comments about women and followed it up with very disturbing comments about Jews and then went on to say that the Fort Hood shooter was justified in his actions.”

In 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, opened fire at Fort Hood, Tex., killing 13 and wounding more than 30.

Nigel Fairbrass, a spokesman for G4S, said that when courthouse officials sought Mr. Mateen’s removal they never told the company about specific terrorism-related comments. Instead, Mr. Fairbrass said, they said that his behavior was not conducive to a courthouse environment and that he had developed strained relationships with other workers.

But when the company interviewed Mr. Mateen about the situation, he acknowledged making inflammatory statements to courthouse workers, saying he did so only in anger because he had been continually harassed, Mr. Fairbrass said.

Mr. Mateen also told the company about being questioned by the F.B.I., but he said that the agency had cleared him, Mr. Fairbrass said. This was the first time the company heard about the F.B.I. interview, the company spokesman said.

Fred Burton, a former counterterrorism official with the State Department, said that if Mr. Mateen’s employer knew that he had made the sort of comments described by the sheriff, then it should have taken action.

“At minimum, that was a termination offense,” said Mr. Burton, the chief security officer at Stratfor, a political risk and security firm in Austin, Tex. “I know cases where security guards have been terminated for a heck of a lot less, just because they are not the right fit for that kind of job.”

G4S officials say Mr. Mateen, who was hired in 2007 into a subsidiary then known as Wackenhut, was subject to various checks in his years of employment, without adverse findings, including a criminal-background check in October 2013, the same month courthouse officials requested his removal.

The Florida agriculture commissioner, Adam Putnam, who oversees security officer licensing in the state, also said Mr. Mateen’s applications and examinations were in order.

“There was nothing in that record that would have disqualified this individual, who was a U.S. citizen, who had a clean criminal record, who underwent a background check and mental health screening, from receiving those licenses,” Mr. Putnam said in a statement.

But other Florida officials had seen red flags with Mr. Mateen before G4S hired him.

Records released late Friday by the State Department of Corrections, where Mr. Mateen trained as a prison guard, suggested that he was a poor trainee who, days before the April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech that left 33 people dead, suggested he might bring a weapon to the training academy.

A warden recommended firing Mr. Mateen, who repeatedly slept in class and had also been absent without leave. He was fired in late April 2007.

“In light of recent tragic events at Virginia Tech, Officer Mateen’s inquiry about bringing a weapon to class is at best extremely disturbing,” the warden, Powell H. Skipper, wrote in a letter.

G4S said late Friday that it did not talk to Mr. Mateen’s prison employer before his hiring, but did talk to four other previous employers who confirmed his employment, including one he was simultaneously working for during his probationary period with the prison. The company said Mr. Mateen’s application indicated he had been dismissed from the prison job for taking two days off because of a fever.

Alan Blinder contributed reporting.


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